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Chapter 11: A Few Good Stories & The City of Lights

Eiffel Tower and all of the other cliche touristy stuff in Paris 🤌🏼

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A Few Good Stories

There are people, places, and events. Then there are stories about those people, places, and events. Objective facts are boring and dull. Stories are dynamic. Subject to interpretation. We humans are captivated by stories. They help us understand the world. Build connections between point A and B.

Stories allow us to bridge the gap between what we have done and who we are. They provide color to our motivations and fears. They explain the “why” behind all of our “whats”. The whole reason that I’m putting this blog out there for the world to see is because I want to write my own story as I live it.

The most interesting part of Europe hasn’t been the sites seen, food eaten, or drinks drank. It has been the people that I’ve met, and the stories of how they got here. Here’s a few good stories.

Darrel from Zimbabwe

Darrel was a white dude from Zimbabwe, which really threw me off. You learn something new every day.

Darrel was nuts. Easily the most interesting dude I’ve ever met. It’s a shame that I never got a picture with this guy. Covered in tattoos, Darrel dropped out of high school at 16 to travel. 10 years later he is 26 going on 40, and he doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. How does he do it? He travels til he runs out of money, and then he finds work in his current city.

Maybe he milks dairy cows in southern France. Maybe he bartends in Athens, Greece. Maybe he works at a restaurant in Alexandria, Egypt. This guy has done and seen more in a decade than most people do in a century. I hope he writes a book.

Rylan from Seattle

A day one homie, I like Rylan’s story because it’s so similar to my own. Rylan interned at Costco in college, and his boss liked him so much that he brought him on full-time while he was still in school. While making $60k a year salary as a glorified intern because he hadn’t graduated, Rylan went all in on GameStop in January and turned a few thousand into almost $400k.

Like any good gambler, he doubled down and promptly lost $200k in a day or so when the market moved against him. Unfazed, Rylan decided that there was a big world to go see, and no time like the present to see it. He quit his job at Costco, bought a 1-way ticket to Europe with his friend Tanner, and they’ve been in Europe since. Catch you boys in Croatia.

Mike from Toronto

I met Mike in Lagos, and he took “work from home” to the extreme. Mike is working remote for a Toronto-based company, but he got an Airbnb in Lisbon, Portugal. He’s working 2-10 every day, traveling Europe on weekends, and his company has no idea. He’s hardly the first person I’ve met that’s doing something like this, but the fact that he’s staying in Airbnbs in Europe with no current residence in Toronto is hilarious. God bless the nomad lifestyle. Catch us in the French Riviera next weekend.

Lydia from Idaho

Still the only person I’ve met from Idaho, Lydia’s story is the definition of opportunistic. She was working for a dance company when COVID really put a damper on that business. She had been living in Vegas with her boyfriend and a couple of friends, and like many Americans in 2020, she found herself receiving solid unemployment and stimulus checks. Unlike most Americans, she took full advantage of Uncle Sam’s generosity and flew to Italy to stay with some relatives. A trip to Italy turned into several months backpacking around Europe. She wins the award for the best use of 2020’s stimulus checks.

Victor from Brazil

Victor was a fascinating dude. One of the hostel staff members at La Banda in Sevilla, Victor speaks five different languages: Portuguese, Spanish, English, German, and I cannot remember the other one to save my life. He was on pace to get his PhD in Germany, but then he made a 180. Victor now helps refugees while teaching online German classes to students around the world. Dude is a true renaissance man.

Tolley from Saskatchewan

This is the most Canadian dude I’ve ever seen (sorry Toronto boys, Tolley bleeds maple syrup). Outside my hostel in Paris, I was hanging out with some Germans and Norwegians when I heard “Is that English I hear eh?”

I turn around and see this dude wearing a backwards hat, denim shirt, denim shorts, with a cig tucked behind his ear. Tolley was born wayyy up north in Canada. Like in polar bear territory. He is a blacksmith by trade (which I didn’t realize was still a viable trade after the 1800s), and he makes all sorts of weapons, armor, and jewelry. He cast two of his own teeth in sterling steel. You can see one in the above photo.

Why was he in Paris? His favorite tattoo artist in the world is from a small town in France, and he couldn’t get an appointment in 2020 because of COVID. Now that travel is back, he flew halfway around the world to get inked up.

Francesca from Tuscany

Like Victor, Francesca was a staff member at La Banda in Sevilla. However, she took a much different path from him to end up there. Instead of attending university after high school, she bought a one way ticket to the Gold Coast of Australia and spent the better part of a year working in the land down under. She was working all over Europe before the pandemic, and she decided to move to southern Spain once travel resumed.

Jason from Hong Kong/Nebraska

Jason Chan is the man. He grew up in Hong Kong before moving to Omaha, Nebraska of all places. He can walk to Warren Buffett’s house in less than 10 minutes. Jason got his pilot’s license in Nebraska, but he’s trying to pivot from being a career pilot to working a more white-collar job (analyst type of role) for an airline. I learned that in Hong Kong, students are given “English names” to use in school while learning English. I also learned a ton about China and the government’s “big brother” approach to everything. Jason is doing the same thing as me: traveling Europe and trying to see as much cool stuff as possible. He even toured Chernobyl a week ago.

Eight different people with eight different stories, but they all had something in a common: a desire to get out and see the world.

Jack from Atlanta

I’m out here trying to see the world as well.

Maybe I’m a privileged white guy that got tired of working and took off to Europe.

Maybe I’m a vagabond who wanted to chase adventure in my 20s.

Maybe I’m another stir-crazy remote worker who spent too much time sitting in my apartment.

Maybe I’m an author trying to write my own story instead of living out someone else’s.

Maybe all of the above are true. That’s the beauty of stories: one man’s actions can take a million different meanings. Let’s get to Chapter 11 of my story.

Recap

Friday, September 24th

BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP

If you ever lived with me, you know I use a blaring alarm that could give someone a heart attack. In five years of college football, I was never late to practice thanks to said alarm. That being said, I probably need to use a new sound soon. Otherwise I may actually die from a heart attack.

My alarm went off at 7:45. I threw on my hoodie, grabbed my backpack, and marched a mile to the train station. I had a reservation on a high speed train from Sevilla to Barcelona, as I was flying from Barcelona to Paris at 6 PM. The Eurail pass I have is fantastic because all regular trains are free, and high-speed/overnight trains are 90% off. I reserved a seat on the app, and paid $13 (normally $100+) at the station for my individual seat reservation.

After crossing the country in four hours, I hopped on the Barcelona metro to head to the airport. The cool thing about Europe is that flights are often dirt cheap. Unfortunately these dirt cheap flights suck. Small, tight seats, no accommodations, and they always feel turbulent as hell.

I don’t like flying. Actually it’s pretty much the only thing I would say I’m afraid of. It really doesn’t make sense, but stuff we’re afraid of can rarely be resolved with logic. When you’re scared of stuff, your mind can get irrational. So when a woman with a backpack spends way too long in the airplane’s bathroom, two guys in front of me keep whispering back and forth to each other while glancing back at said bathroom, one of them tries to go to said bathroom during a “mandatory seatbelt” portion of the flight, and both of them keep messing with their phones and refuse to buckle their seatbelts as the landing process begins, my anxiety-riddled mind came to one logical conclusion: there was totally a bomb in the bathroom and I was about to become a human firework show in the Paris sky.

In reality the woman probably just had some bathroom-related emergency and the guy had to take a piss. Obviously either there wasn’t a bomb, or the bomb didn’t explode, because I’m still here.

Once we landed, I navigated my way to the hostel via subway. Turns out I actually stayed at the same place three years ago. I recognized the Croatian guy who checked me in.

St. Christopher’s Inn in Paris is freaking awesome. The hostel has a massive bar with different events every night, and it was packed that night for a concert. I scrambled to shower and head back downstairs. I met five French dudes who had come to the bar for the concert, and I played beer pong with them for a while. One of them introduced me to another American, a girl named Elise. Turns out she went to Pace Academy, lived in Buckhead, and moved to Paris to teach. Small world eh?

Back at the bar, I saw a dude with a ridiculous mustache. I figured he was either American or the most French dude in Paris. Turns out he was from California. Tomas, the mustache’d man in question, was a senior at Cal Poly studying in Barcelona for a quarter. Class didn’t start til October, so he was in Paris with two friends (Joey and Hannah) for a week beforehand. We stayed at the hostel bar for a while before heading to a club called Wanderlust.

I pulled the classic “My girlfriend is inside and she’s really drunk” to cut near the front of the line (21/21 success rate for those keeping score back home), but I got bodied by the bouncer at the door. Tomas had jumped up there with me, but the bouncer wouldn’t let us in because of girl to guy ratio. Dude was a loser.

So we got back in line with Hannah and Joey, and Tomas found three random girls further back in line to bring with us. We get back to the front with a solid 4 girls to 3 guys, and he bounces us AGAIN. I’m 99% sure it’s because we’re Americans, so stupid.

We wander around for a bit before finding a dive bar half a mile down the road. Then Tomas sees a strip of like 50 bars around the corner. Joey and Hannah stayed there, but Tomas and I checked the new area. 10/10 decision, it was the busiest part of the Latin Quarter and it was POPPIN.

We probably went in and out of 10 bars, and finally settled down at one playing Wonderwall. We stayed there til like 5 when the subway reopened, and then we managed to metro back to the hostel.

Saturday, September 25th

I woke up at 1:22 PM. New record for oversleeping in Europe. I met Tomas, Joey, and Hannah at a cafe down the road at 2:30.

Hannah was headed to London, but Tomas and Joey were staying one more night. Trying to get us in last night, Joey had accidentally bought Wanderlust tickets for Saturday thinking it was Friday. We planned to go back that night with said tickets.

Joey walked Hannah to the train station, and Tomas and I talked Europe, traveling, and random life stuff for a while before I bounced to go do the typical touristy stuff.

I took the metro to the Seine River and checked out Luxembourg Garden, Notre Dame, and the Eiffel Tower (obviously). On said metro, I made a new friend. French babies are cute af.

After grabbing dinner down down, I hung out near the Eiffel Tower to see the light show. There was a concert at the far end of the park, and the lights on the tower were constantly changing colors to match the beat of the music. Pretty cool stuff.

Tomas texted me and said that Joey and he wouldn’t be going out after 6 nights out in Paris. Normally I would get that, but that’s poor execution on a Saturday. I got back to the hostel and headed down to the lobby bar again. I ended up meeting Alex, an American guy working in Paris, and his whole team. He worked for a logistics company in Paris, and his coworkers were Indian, Chinese, Nigerian, and German. After chowing down on some chicken wings I went back to the bar and ran into some Norwegian girls.

Let me tell you something fellas, there’s something in the water in Norway. I’ve been in Europe for a month and I swear every girl from Norway is a literal goddess. It’s ridiculous.

Out of three girls, two were studying their master’s degrees in Paris, while the third was a younger sister visiting for the weekend. At 1:30ish, we all joined a group of Germans and Argentinians to head to a club. I met a Moroccan guy in line at the club who told me about how he got kicked out of the country for hacking into their public education computer network. Like a North African Edward Snowden type of thing.

The line wasn’t moving, so we all headed back to the hostel at two something. We all hung out outside for a while, when king Canada himself, Tolley (same guy referenced earlier) walked up. Again, I cannot explain how Canadian this dude was. It was hilarious. He told me all about his blacksmith work and life up north, and I was loving it. We almost went looking for another bar, but I made a business decision and called it a night.

Sunday, September 26th

NFL Sunday in Europe 😤

I got up around 10:30 today and headed back to the Seine River in search of a good brunch place. I didn’t do a ton today; just found a coffee shop near the Eiffel Tower to settle in and write.

I spent the whole afternoon writing away before heading back to the hostel for the NFL slate. Being six hours ahead, the first games came on at 7:00 PM. Somehow I booked the one hostel in Paris with every single NFL game on in the bar, and it was freaking awesome. I saw a group of five 20-something dudes and a middle aged guy watching the Bills game, so I sat down by them. The older guy, Chris was a Philly native who had married a French woman, and his son, Theo, was one of the guys at the table. They had brought some of Theo’s friends to watch the NFL games.

Apparently the NFL is actually growing quickly in Europe, and a lot of younger French guys are now fans. They were all rooting for different teams, but Antoine was a real homie. He’s a Falcons fan because he thought Julio was cool a few years ago.

I watched ball and hung out with them for hours, but I headed back to my room during the second slate of games. Big travel day tomorrow, and I need some sleep.

That’s all for now, I’ll catch you guys after my trip across southern France.

Jack

See below for the previous and next chapter: